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How to Save Money on Back to School Costs

There’s no denying “back to school” can be an expensive time of year. No sooner have you wished everyone a Merry Christmas and done ALL the fun summer holiday stuff, then the back-to-school costs arrive like an unwelcome visitor. Have the kids grown? Are last year’s school shoes worn through? Do you really have to buy everything on the book list? Fear not, there ARE ways to save on those back to school costs.

Here are some ideas to help prepare and save on back to school costs and for the school year ahead.

Save on school uniforms

back to school costs
Photo courtesy of Brisbane Christian College

Kids grow, there’s no denying that, and if they’ve already outgrown the uniform you bought two-sizes-too-big last year – and you’ve let down hems as far as they will go – then they definitely need replacing.

  • Buy the essentials– If you want to buy new but the budget won’t run to a uniform for each day of the week, buy a couple of full sets and commit to doing the washing more often.
  • Spread the costs– Put off buying warmer clothes until the seasons start to change.
  • Second-hand uniforms– Most school uniform shops have very serviceable second-hand uniforms for sale at much reduced prices.
  • Talk to other parents– Get to know parents with older kids at your school and ask them if they have any second-hand items they can hand on to you.
  • Check social media– There might already be a Facebook group of parents from your school with uniforms to sell or swap, or try asking in your local parenting groups.
  • Labelling is essential– Putting your child’s name on every single uniform item is important as your child’s uniform will hopefully be returned to you if they lose it. Make the label as large and obvious as possible so if it accidentally gets taken home by another child, the parent will quickly see it’s not theirs.
  • Is generic an option? – If your child’s school has plain socks in their uniform, you might find cheaper alternatives to the uniform shop’s brand in the high street.
  • Offset the cost – If your own outgrown uniforms are still in good condition you can sell them to offset the cost of replacements.

Save on school shoes

School shoes are big business and retailers will vie for your custom. Many will offer discounts or “buy one pair, get one half price” specials. If you’re buying for multiple children this is great. If you’re buying for one, team up with a friend to share the discount, or buy the same shoe in a bigger size for when your child’s feet inevitably grow.

Read our detailed guide on the best school shoes in Australia here.

Save on school stationery and supplies

how to save money on back to school costs

The book list can be a big part of your back-to-school costs, especially as some now include electronic devices. Here are some ways to save:

  • Check what you already have– Search through the desks and cupboards in your home and check what your child brought home at the end of the last school year. Items like scissors, rulers and pencil cases appear on the lists every year but they don’t always need replacing. It’s quick and easy to ‘select all’ items on the booklist, but investing the time to see what you don’t need can save you heaps.
  • Go early but look for sales – Shopping early can mean you get what you want rather than what’s left over, but there are advantages to waiting until January. Big retailers will often have a “Back-to-School” sale where you can save on essentials and multi-buys. Don’t forget to go back at the of January to stock up on the clearance items you know you will need next year!
  • Avoid impulse buys– Stick to a list or go shopping without the kids so you won’t be tempted by them to buy more than you need.
  • Don’t buy into expensive stuff– Knowing that they might be lost or trashed, aim for cheap but durable stationery supplies that will last, rather than brand name items. Look to shop at discount stores, supermarkets or bulk stationery stores known for good prices or price matching.
  • Labelling saves you money– Be sure to clearly label everything your child takes to school to save you the expense of replacing what gets lost.
  • Set a limit– If your kids are older, agree on a budget with them so they can choose what they get and at the same time learn a life lesson about budgeting and managing money.
  • Haggle – It’s ok to ask a store if they will price match an item on your booklist to save you going from store to store. Some will, some won’t, but you’ve nothing to lose by asking.

As for those electronic devices, many big retailers and electronic brands offer discount schemes for eligible students and schools. Check in-store for details or ask your school if they have an arrangement with a preferred supplier.

Looking for a school pack pack that is different to the rest? We love these – check them out here!

Save on food and transport back to school costs

Everyplate review

Over the year, we have reviewed a bunch of meal boxes that get delivered to your door and at the moment, the best value for money comes from a company called EveryPlate. We reviewed EveryPlate here in detail – but in brief, you can feed your family for $2.99 per person, + delivery! (We use the left-overs for school lunches!) #thinking!

School lunches

Be prepared each week by planning school lunches. Keep an eye on catalogues to get good deals on lunch and snack items, and make meals in bulk if you can. Again, be sure to use cheap but good quality containers that last and label everything. Check out our reviews of the best lunch boxes.

Transport costs

If your child is catching public transport to school, make sure you apply for a valid concession card for cheaper fares. You can get them at many newsagents.

Did you know? The Queensland Government can help with back to school costs by providing assistance for eligible students travelling to and from school under the School Transport Assistance Scheme (STAS). This applies to travel on Translink buses, ferries and trains. Visit www.translink.com.au and search STAS to find out more.

Assistance is available on all TransLink or qconnect bus, ferry, train and tram services, as well as for private vehicle travel.

Plan your budget

Use a budget planner to work out your back to school costs. Be sure to include extra costs that might come up during the year, such as excursions and project supplies. This could be a good opportunity to teach your kids about the importance of budgeting and work out a pocket money system while you are at it!

Budget planner

Looking for ways to start bringing money IN? Some fabulous tips and tricks from our friend Mim are just over here! 

Have you got any back to school costs saving ideas? Let us know in comments below!

This article was featured in Issue 37 of our printed magazine, published December 2019

Photo of author

Joanne Crane

Joanne loves speaking directly to people of all ages through the medium of writing, sharing tips and knowledge for families and kids to help everyone get the most out of life. Her focus is on the development of resilience, confidence and independence in children, and on helping families engage and create lasting memories. Self-esteem, self-respect and self-worth are vital skills that Joanne believes children need to learn early to help them grow as adults.

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